Firstly I guess we should look at a dictionary definition of the words, using the Cambridge English Dictionary that is on the stand within arm's reach of my PC:
Tolerance, n. the quality of being tolerant; toleration; endurance.
Tolerant, a. Ready to tolerate; enduring; indulgent; favouring toleration.
Tolerate, vt. To allow or permit; to treat with forbearance; to put up with; to allow religious freedom to.
Toleration, n. Act of tolerating; allowance given to that which is not wholly approved; recognition of the right of private judgment in religion.
Judge, vi. To act as a judge; to pass sentence; to form an opinion; to estimate. -- vt. To hear and determine; To examine into and decide; To try; To esteem.
Judgment, Act of judging; Good sense, Discernment; Opinion or estimate; Mental faculty by which man (sorry girls, that's just what it says) ascertains the relations between ideas; sentence pronounced; A calamity regarded as a punishment of sin; Final trial of the human race.
Judgementalism is actually not in this dictionary, or any other I can find.
Judgmental can be found in a few places, but non-judgmental is easier to find... found it on Cambridge Dictionary online.
non-judgmental adj. If a person or thing is non-judgmental, they do not judge or criticize: a non-judgmental book/counselor. (The Samaritans is an organization that provides a 24-hour, non-judgmental listening service.)
So what's the point? Let's have a look at tolerance. Notice that allowing religious freedom is added at the end of tolerance – this is most likely in response to recent trends in the way the word is being used.
Christians are often criticised for being intolerant. What I understand this to mean is that we should accept and allow people to believe what they choose to believe, and not condemn them for disagreeing with us. Feel free to disagree with me if you like, but this is what I understand people to be saying to us when they accuse us of being intolerant.
It is a principle that our society seems entirely willing to embrace, that each person should be allowed to believe whatever they choose, whether it be that Jesus is God, and the only Way by which a person can go to heaven, or that the sky is green and Tuesdays are a figment of the collective unconscious' desire to be more closely aligned to the nature of the seven most malodorous types of cheese. What you choose to believe doesn’t matter, that you are free to choose it does, or so I am led to understand.
I have no problem with this principle. I believe, as I have stated elsewhere, that people must be able to think for themselves and make their own choices. Every person is free to believe as they choose, and should be willing to be responsible for those choices and stand by them. Christianity is founded on that principle. People must choose for themselves whether or not they will follow Christ. Christianity also has at its core that any human being who does not know Christ will therefore end up in hell on the basis of their choice to not follow Him who is the only Way to come to the Father. It's pretty simple really.
So is it intolerant of me to say that a Muslim will go to hell because they don't know Christ? Am I denying them their right to believe in their god or their scriptures? No.
Am I stopping them from participating in any part of their faith by making this statement? No.
Am I forcing them to change their mind and become a Christian? No.
Do I agree with them about the actual value of believing what they believe? Also no.
If I truly believe that Christ is the only Way, as He said He was, then I must believe that any other way is futile.
Do they agree with me when I say that Jesus is God, and the only Way to the Father? No.
As I understand it, the Muslim belief regarding Jesus is that He was just an ordinary human prophet like Moses and Elijah, and that the only true God is rightly called Allah (the Arabic word that simply means god), and not Yahweh (Jehovah is a mistranslation of the Old Testament name of God – it’s a long story).
Our two beliefs are mutually exclusive. If either of them is ultimately true, then the other is simply not. There can be no road between. Are we intolerant of each other? At times perhaps we are, but ideally we both recognise the other's right to believe as they choose. In essence, they have the right to be wrong if they like, but if they want to change their mind they also have the right to do so, and will be welcome to join us if they do.
The problem with the word tolerant is two-fold; firstly, the word implies putting up with something unacceptable, which is close enough to the truth, but it suggests that the other person's right to believe differently is unacceptable, which cannot be our attitude, and secondly, it is used to mean acceptance of the other's ideas as valid and true for them, which implies that all religion is relative and subjective, and ultimately it doesn't matter which is true. This also cannot be our attitude.
I can allow [tolerate, endure] your right to believe God is real, or not, or something else entirely, regardless of whether I agree with you. But if you ask me honestly what I think about your stated belief that God is actually a box full of rabid weasels, I will say that you are wrong about Him. I know Him, and he is not in any way related to the ferret family. I must believe that you are wrong, my belief clearly does not allow for the possibility that you are right. Am I intolerant? No. You are free to believe what you believe. I am free to disagree.
What is intolerant is to deny me my rights to hold the belief that Jesus is the only Way to the Father as He said He was, and that no other way (including the box-of-rabid-weasels way) is ultimately a waste of your life. Do I not have the right to believe what I want, just like you do? Does that not include the possibility that I believe you are mistaken?
What about Judgementalism? Am I judgmental? I guess I have to ask first do I show some kind of judgment? Any time I make a choice between one thing and another on any kind of merit, than I am judging between the two. If I decide that eating chicken for my dinner is better than eating nuclear waste, I am making a value judgment. I am deciding between two things on their merit, or the lack thereof.
Having good judgment is a compliment to me. It suggests that I make good decisions. So, what do we mean when we call a person judgmental? Mostly I understand it to mean that the person is overly critical and condemning, particularly of someone else's beliefs or choices.
If you genuinely believe that your brother in law's pet goat is a suitable sexual partner for you, and I tell you that the relationship is wrong and illegal you might think I am being judgmental, in fact you would probably call me judgmental. Of course bestiality is still illegal in Australia, and most people find the very idea offensive, so you might find it hard to find someone who will not have a similar opinion to me. Some people might be genuinely understanding of you, your perceived need for sexual release, and your unusual taste. They may even support your right to choose it, but they will probably not agree with your choice.
Am I judgmental? Or do I demonstrate the quality of judgment? What I think people mean when they uphold the ideal of non-judgementalism is that they want to not be condemned for a decision they have made, though it may be an unpopular one. They want tolerance of their right to make their choice, and also to not be challenged about their sense of judgment, or more likely the lack thereof. We feel condemned when someone points out to us the areas of our life where we have shown a lack of good judgment. This is not necessarily because the person was wrongly pushing their view onto us, but because our own conscience is bothered by something we chose for ourselves that was not good. It is true that some people are overly condemning of people's choices, and that is never good. But a lot of the time people get accused of being judgmental simply because they trigger the conscience of someone who is feeling a little guilty already, or possibly knows they should be.
I'll use myself as an example here, let’s imagine I have loads of work to do and I know I should be doing it, but instead I take the time to write this overly long blog. I talk to my wife who is using her day off to do some cleaning around the house, and without her saying anything, I feel guilty. She's doing more work than me, and it's her day off. My conscience is bothered by the fact that I have taken it entirely too easy, and my work is not getting done.
A lot of the work I have to do is stuff that people are counting on me to do as soon as possible, and I haven't done it. I'm letting them down. I feel guilty. I chat with my mum on the phone, and when she asks me if I'm busy, I make an offhand comment that I would be if I wasn't putting things off, and she tells me that I should get my work done. I've had the lecture before – get the work done early, and then you can do the other stuff later. Now I feel even guiltier. This is all sounding disturbingly familiar. Let’s say now that on Thursday I meet with someone who is waiting for my work, and I have to tell them that I haven't done it yet, they ask what I've been doing and I say “nothing much really”. Understandably annoyed, they tell me I should’ve done the work first, and saved the other stuff till after, now their deadline is impossible and it's my fault. I feel condemned for my lack of judgment. Are they being judgmental? No. Are they being condemning? Not really. Could I get upset at them for telling me how to spend my time? Maybe, but it would be stupid. Perhaps I do have the right to choose to not do the work they asked me to do, but I should have told them I wasn't going to do it. I showed poor judgment, and I will have to live with the consequences. They will probably not ask me to do any more work for them.
If you came to me and said that you wanted to find a way to legally marry the goat you had fallen in love with, I might tell you that it’s illegal and will not be recognised as a legal union. I might advise you that it will be hard to find someone with a celebrant's license who will perform such a marriage, and that you should perhaps consider a more human companion, after seeking some professional help. You might call me judgmental, but in reality, it would be that I have highlighted to you something that you feel guilty about because secretly you are aware that this kind of behaviour is inappropriate. If I say that you can't get married, it isn't that I am denying you your rights, or your freedom, or condemning your union, just pointing out your poor judgment in this case.
So tell me, what do you think? Are we misusing or overusing these words? Are there better ones we could use instead? Are you tolerant or judgmental? Intolerant or non-judgmental? Do you have any examples of times when this has been an issue?
I'd love to hear what you have to say.